Tuesday, May 01, 2007

THIS WILL ALL END IN TEARS by Joe Ollmann

THIS WILL ALL END IN TEARS is a 168-page collection of five short stories by Joe Ollmann published in 2006 by Insomniac Press (PDF samples of two of the stories can be downloaded at the linked sites). Apparently Ollmann has a few previous books, but I'd never heard of him until I saw this book in the library the other day. From the "Littlest Hobo" reference in one story you can probably guess that he's Canadian...

It's a great little book, with each story presenting a little slice in the life of a different working-class character. In general very depressing slices, but with some touches of humour to soften it a bit. The art is a nice, solid expressive style, and the scripting is excellent, very naturalistic and smooth. Most of the stories are built around contrasting the internal thoughts of the main character with the actual dialogue, showing how they hide things, second guess themselves and interpret the actions of others.

It reminds me a lot of some of the alternative press comics I enjoyed back in the 1990s, in particular Jessica Abel's ARTBABE and Roberta Gregory's NAUGHTY BITS. Actually, thinking of what to compare it to, I'd almost put it right in the middle of those two in a lot of ways. The characters are less pretty than Abel's, not quite as ugly as Gregory's, both in looks and personality.

The Roberta Gregory comparison really comes across in the first story, "Big Boned", about an overweight young woman whose internal monologue of bitterness and contempt for herself and those around her contrasts with the actual dialogue, where she's afraid to express herself and always puts the worst possible interpretation on what the words and actions of others mean. That kind of structure was pretty common in Gregory's Bitchy Bitch stories, and I remember at least one which was built entirely on Bitchy's cynical interpretations of what everyone really means. It's quite a bit different in effect from Gregory's work. You tend to laugh at her characters, while for the most part you just feel sorry for Ollmann's.

"Day Old" is a bit of an anomaly in the book. The shortest story, it's also the only one without a running narrative of the inner voice of the main character, so for the most part we just get the story through the dialogue and actions (although it's also the only one where Ollmann resorts to thought balloons in a few places). It's a simple enough story about a bagel store employee bending some rules to show some kindness for a mother with a sick child, and the consequences of that.

"Oh Deer" is the most comical of the stories. It starts off oddly, with a man trying to sell a fired-once gun at a pawn shop. As the story goes on we find that the man allowed himself to be pressured by people at work to go on a hunting trip, where he shot a deer, and now has to deal with its carcass. The humour gets almost slapstick at times, but there's quite a bit going on beneath the jokes.

"The Filmed a Movie Here Once" is the longest story in the book, at 52 pages, and features a young waitress in a small town, and all of the characters who intersect with her life, including fellow employees, her father, her priest and her boyfriend. It ends up being a very complex story about love, religion, trust and betrayal, and Ollmann does a great job of creating three-dimensional characters in very little space.

"Hanging Over" is another long story to close the book, and might be my favourite. In this one, a man has to deal with taking care of his intellectually disabled older brother after their mother has an accident. The lead character is anything but an angel, and most of the story is spent with him trying to duck out of his responsibilities and justifying his actions both to himself and to others. A lot of great little scenes that are entertaining on their own right and also serve to demonstrate and advance the relationships between the characters.

Despite being one of the most depressing collection of comic book stories I've ever seen, finding this book was a very pleasant surprise. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a good example of this kind of slice-of-life drama that I'm not sure anyone else is doing anymore (I guess Adrian Tomine still is in OPTIC NERVE, although I never really got into his stuff beyond the original short work).

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